Heathcott, CJRW Settle 2018 Breach of Contract Lawsuit

Heathcott, CJRW Settle 2018 Breach of Contract Lawsuit
Gary Heathcott (file)

Former Little Rock advertising man Gary Heathcott and marketing firm CJRW of Little Rock have settled Heathcott's $1.3 million breach of contract lawsuit from 2018, a case that gained local prominence at the height of the "Me Too" movement.

Heathcott filed the case after CJRW dismissed him as a consultant in 2017 amid complaints of abusive behavior and sexist remarks to co-workers and clients.

Both Heathcott and CJRW confirmed that a settlement has been reached. The agency bought the business assets of Heathcott's firm, Heathcott Associates, in 2015, and afterward took him on as a consultant.

"I can confirm that this matter has been resolved to the parties' satisfaction," Heathcott wrote in a text message to Arkansas Business, which had asked about the status of the case after an anonymous tip. Asked for a telephone interview or more details, Heathcott repeated his terse statement verbatim.

Mark Raines, CJRW's vice president for public relations, was also brief: "We are pleased that this matter has been resolved," he said in an email.

Heathcott's attorney, Stephen W. Jones of the Jack Nelson Jones firm in Little Rock, said he would not comment on the case. McKenzie L. Raub, one of the attorneys representing CJRW, referred questions to co-counsel Jess Askew III, who did not immediately respond to phone messages.

The case, which lingered two and a half years, partly because of COVID delays, had a timely aspect as female workers nationwide stood up to male colleagues and bosses' abusive behavior in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, as well as many others.

CJRW accused Heathcott of violating the firm's employee handbook with a series of escalating sexist and abusive actions. Heathcott said those claims were merely a rationale for refusing to pay him what he was owed.

CJRW had engaged the colorful Heathcott to consult after the deal for Heathcott & Associates, but it banished him from its offices in September 2017, alleging misbehavior around female co-workers and clients.

Heathcott filed the $1.3 million breach-of-contract complaint in December 2018. CJRW filed a counterclaim that laid out — in sometimes painful detail — what it described as more than two dozen incidents of "abusive conduct or sexually inappropriate or harassing behavior" at CJRW and outside its offices.

Heathcott said at the time that those claims were "filled with half-truths, distortions and outright fabrications."

Talk of a settlement had been filtering through the Little Rock advertising world this week, and one anonymous text said the case would be ending with a payment of "a substantial sum."

No details of the settlement were made public.

Arkansas Business reported in November 2017 that Heathcott had been removed from CJRW's major account with the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, a fact confirmed by an email from CJRW Chief Executive Officer Darin Gray to then-lottery official Donna Bragg that was obtained through a state Freedom of Information request.

At that time, CJRW also removed Heathcott from work with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, an account he had helped to land.

After filing the lawsuit, Heathcott moved his official residence to Texas, where he lives near San Antonio. Recently he has been coordinating advertising for Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, "Las Vegas, Arkansas Style." In an email to Arkansas Business, he described the new Quapaw Nation casino as currently the largest advertiser in the state.

The parties to the suit weren't the only people glad to see the case settled. "I was dreading the possibility of having to testify at trial," one former ad executive told Arkansas Business on Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the executive was named in court filings. "That would have been a last-resort situation for me."

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